In order to understand a society as a whole, but also the subjective quality of life of individuals within it, the question of how labor is organized and practiced is of paramount importance. Labor is a key factor of societal reproduction; therefore, its study enables essential conclusions about far-reaching aspects of societal change. At the same time, this theme is frequently the focus of political transformation attempts and their corresponding ideological visions.
The structures and practices of social inequality that are also imparted through work are both the consequence and determinant of political transformation; they have effects on the stability of political and economic institutions in a number of ways. As a result of its state-socialist history the region offers the opportunity to study from a comparative perspective specific patterns of structuring industrial relations and the welfare state. The post-socialist situation, in turn, could be compared with a “natural experiment” in the study of the impact on industrial relations of the rapid introduction of market-economic relations and a capitalistic property system. For both periods, manifestations of labor that differ both in terms of time and location generate a special potential for gaining new insights into the region under investigation.
Labor is a highly appropriate prism for studying the interconnections between societal structures, political interventions, individual lives and the collective establishment of meaning. It is a social field in which individual and collective practices of adaption to, or adoption of, encountered structures – based on the particular moral economy – become especially evident. A central issue of this focus area is therefore the comparison between labor practices and normative ascriptions to work in different political systems: what is regarded as work – and what is not? Where to draw the line between freedom and compulsion, between formality and informality ? Another issue is the analysis of labor markets and social models. A further central issue pertains to the role work plays in individual life satisfaction.
Practices and Institutions of Labor
A central complex of questions in this focus area deals with concrete labor practices against the background of historically specific, political and socio-economic orders. In particular, the perspectives of workers are considered in order to explore potentialities of labor both as a source of autonomy and subjectivity and also as a place of alienation and exploitation. From a comparative perspective, the focus is placed on important periods of transformation (Projects: “Industrial Relations, Social Protest and Violence in the Dock- and Shipyard-Worker Milieus on Both Sides of the Italian-Yugoslav Border During the Cold War”; “Real-Socialist Industrial-Worker Cultures in the Balkans: The Steelworks of Elbasan and Kremikovci as Sites of Communist Socialization”; “Transformations from Below: Shipyards and Labour Relations in the Uljanik (Croatia) and Gdynia (Poland) Shipyards since the 1980s”). Practices of work cannot be understood without studying their institutional contexts; in doing so, the question of the development patterns of labor markets and social policies is the focus (projects: “Manifestations of Statehood in State Socialism”; “Social Models in International Comparison: Where do the New EU Member States Stand?”; “Inequality and Wage Differentials Between East and West Germany”).
Work as a Place of Social Inclusion and Exclusion
Work is the social place where inclusion and exclusion practices and the interpretations connected with them take place. This feature is of key importance not only for the social, but also for the cultural effects of labor. The fundamental question is what role work plays for individual well-being and what status it has in concepts of a “good life” – also in relation to other aspects. What factors influence the self-perception of life quality that is determined by work? And how does work contribute to the perceived (un)happiness of individuals and social groups? (Project: “What Makes Women in Russia (Un)Happy?”). Furthermore, IOS projects study marginalized forms of labor and their provider groups as well as the connection between work and (un)freedom. In doing so, both the perspectives of workers as well as the meaning of institutional contexts for concrete labor practices and the interpretations based thereon are examined (Projects: “On the Edge of Work. Prostitutes, Vagabonds and the Unemployed in Yugoslavia, 1918–1941”; “Work and Survival in Yugoslavia. Local Mining Companies Under National Socialist Occupation, 1941–1944/45”). Two other projects, funded by DAAD and the Ministry of Science in Croatia and Slovenia, respectively, explore the role of industrial labour in the local cultures of remembrance in the Upper Adriatic region. One of the projects has its focus on Istria, the other one on the fish canning industry. (Project: Transformation industrieller Lebenswelten und die Erinnerung an Arbeit an der oberen Adria).